Cairngorm Snow holing

An . . . experience

Alex Purser – December 2007

Last winter, my first bash at Scottish winter stuff, I thought it was a terribly good idea that Cath and I should do a night in a snow hole. Here follows an account of the experience:

After spending the morning doing nothing in particular we left the car at the Cairngorm funicular car park and set off towards Coire an Sneachda with plenty of enthusiasm, rucksacks the size of washing machines and the latest and greatest in snow-relocation technology (straight from the garden shed). Of course, we got the occasional, “Bit late to be heading up, isn’t it?” looks from the parties heading back to the car park but we brushed them aside with a nonchalant chuckle. They were probably going back to some pink, fluffy bunkhouse to paint their toenails! Wimps.

We plodded on, hopped and skipped through the corrie, zoomed up the Goat Track at the pace of a thousand raging (racing?) tortoise and dropped into a pleasantly misty Coire Domhain. Wild conjecture to the fore we now had to decide where to site our snow hole. I believe I was quickly running through the finer points of Brigadier Sir Chimley-Glawson’s 1925 theory on snowflake cohesional differentials in a rarefied atmosphere at the moment the mist cleared enough to spot a dark shape not 50 yards into the corrie.
“That’ll save some time,” we thought, recognizing what it was.

By way of a nice surprise we discovered the pair we were sharing the excellent Carrbridge bunkhouse with having lunch in the hole. They didn’t stick around for long though. They had their last twelve routes to tick on Shelterstone crag before they’d be calling it a day. “Enthusisatic” doesn’t come close describing these chaps

Feeling slightly on the cheaty side, not actually having to dig our own snow hole, we set about at least tidying it up a bit. I thought we actually finished up with quite a respectable porch, which is a shame considering that it was largely demolished by an arse on ingress.

There was still a few hours light left and the weather was glorious. Crisp, bright, artistically hazy and with brilliant views over the Cairngorms. We took a wander towards Loch Avon, enjoying some textbook trouser-seat tobogganing on the way, before heading up towards the top of Coire Lochan for a good view of the sunset. So ideal were conditions that we walked back to the hole in our footsteps from earlier.

Here, the tack changes.

You see, snow holes, however much fun they sound, are a pain. You can’t move without getting wet something you don’t want to, in fact you can barely move full stop unless you’ve built a veritable palace (as opposed to our modest offering). And we’d forgotten to bring biscuits thus sullying the entire experience and heavily biasing me forever more against our icy, Hobnobless abode.
In their defence, they are warm and offer excellent shelter from the wind and we managed to enjoy supper in relative comfort.

However, come morning the roof will have sagged sufficiently to nigh on pin you to your sleeping platform and will start dripping on you just as you want to get out of bed. The Chinese were onto something with that water-torture business – the dripping is truly maddening.
We ate breakfast outside; out being infinitely more pleasant than in.


It’s not impossible, or even difficult, to snow hole; just annoying. I’m afraid the novelty wore off quite quickly and, in this case anyway, the problems far outweighed the benefits. We were glad to have done it but mainly so we can tick snow holing off our lists of things to do. Maybe a more remote camp with some far-flung objective in mind would make it worthwhile.

Would I snow hole again?
If you’d asked me at the time I’d probably have said something sarcastic with an overall, “Not bloody likely!” feel to it.
I’ve now had all summer to forget how much I disliked it so could quite easily give it the benefit of the doubt and have another go (the season is nearly on us after all).
Watch this space.

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